The only thing rising faster than gas prices these days is the cost of hollowing out Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a storage site for spent nuclear fuel rods. Seven years ago the estimated price was $58 billion. Last year it was announced as $77 billion. This week, the Bush administration put it at $90 billion.
Enough, already. The $9 billion actually spent on the project to date is too much. Yucca Mountain is a non-starter. Congress needs to scuttle the idea entirely, find ways to encourage the reprocessing of spent fuel rods and allow current nuclear power plants to continue storing waste on-site, a strategy that has worked for decades without incident.
Yucca has too many things working against it. The most powerful of these is Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. He is the Senate majority leader, and he isn't about to let final approval for Yucca come anywhere near a vote. Beyond this rock-solid barrier, however, lie other Indiana Jones-like obstacles. A Yucca storage facility would require moving all the spent fuel rods from nuclear plants nationwide, creating the possibility of lawsuits virtually wherever they are scheduled to go. The project already is mired in lawsuits and political controversies.
It has been this way from the start. Originally, several suitable locations were identified for nuclear-waste storage. But each one died on the altar of politics. Tennessee, for example, has areas more geologically ideal than Yucca Mountain, but Al Gore was a senator from Tennessee at the time and didn't want his state to become a nuclear dumping ground. Nevada was seen as politically weak and geographically distant, but then Reid rose to power.
Originally, Yucca was to open for business in 1998. Now, 10 years later, experts say it won't be ready until 2020, but that is only if Congress approves a steady stream of funds. The government may as well wish for flying pigs to deliver those funds.
Coincidentally, Yucca's perpetual stall is taking place as a nationwide momentum builds for more nuclear power. It is emerging as the safest and cleanest of all viable energy sources, at least until renewable sources such as wind and solar develop to the point they can yield much more power than currently possible.
We hope that day comes. In the meantime, the nation needs to turn its attention more toward reprocessing and less toward an expensive mountain in Nevada.